A video game doesn't exactly make prime movie fodder, or 1982's "Tron" would have been as exciting as it sounded on paper. Ditto for "Wing Commander," a predictable, rather monotonous cross between science-fiction and flying-soldiers movies that conveniently features two of the stars of teenybopper hit She's All That.
Chris Roberts, best known for top-selling computer games including "Times of Lore," "Bad Blood" and "Strike Commander," makes an unconvincing directorial debut with this soggy action film, based on his game of the same name. The references -- "Star Wars," "Top Gun," "Starship Troopers" -- are as obvious as the plotting.
Freddie Prinze Jr. ("I Know What You Did Last Summer") and Matthew Lillard ("Scream"), the earnest nice guy and the goofy flake, respectively, of "She's All That," play variations on those roles in "Wing Commander," the latest flick attached to a Hollywood box-office boom that Entertainment Weekly has dubbed "teensploitation."
Prinze and Lillard are Blair and Maniac, respectively, hot-shot pilots fresh from the Academy and assigned to the same carrier, called the Tiger Claw. Blair, sharp but courteous, commits a faux pas right away, playfully calling the beautiful Deveraux (Saffron Burrows of "Circle of Friends") a "grease monkey" before realizing that she's his superior officer, a wing commander. Maniac, bright but brash, fares better on his first day, sharing a bottle of alcohol with a cafeteria full of fliers, and flirting with sassy ace pilot Rosie, who later succumbs to his dunderheaded charm.
The year, not that it really matters to anyone except the film's creators, is 2564. The Confederation, a.k.a. the good guys from Earth, are actively fighting an alien race known as the Kilrathi. The bad guys, little metallic munchkins with panther faces and slicer-dicer fingernails borrowed from Freddy Krueger, speak in a kind of death-metal Russian that's conveniently translated into subtitles. Even worse, they've got their hands on a computer navigation device which will ultimately help them destroy the orb we call home.
Will Blair, Maniac, Deveraux, Paladin (Tchéky Karyo), Rosie and the rest shoot down the evil Kilrathi, save the day for the Confederation and get the respect they deserve? Will the two pilots who were initially at odds declare a truce and fall in love? Well, yeah, but not before Roberts and a full universe of designers and technicians drag the adventurers through a series of mildly diverting crises.
Blair, kind of like Luke Skywalker, is a guy with a complicated past. He's a half-breed, the son of a father who was a heroic Confederation patriot and a mother who was a pilgrim, one of the last surviving members of a colony of humans who settled space before their fellow earthlings and eventually decided that they were simply superior to the others. Or something like that.
Wearing a cross that's a symbol of his special lineage, Blair fights racism -- "Pilgrims don't think like us," says one nasty doubter played by Jurgen Prochnow -- and eventually uses his special gifts to navigate a crucial flight.
"Wing Commander" gets much of its fuel from shiny hardware, explosions that go on forever and nifty sweaterlike uniforms to go with a diversity of European accents. Noisy space battles abound, and the 250 visual-effects shots, all computer generated, include a staggered freeze-frame sequence meant to illustrate the method by which the Confederates are able to slip through a time-space portal, jumping from one part of the galaxy to another.
Too bad there's not a button that would enable viewers to make a time-space jump to another game, I mean movie, after the first 15 minutes of this exercise in dullness. Now that would be a special effect.